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At A Crossroad & Need Some Serious Advice From Experienced Chefs Or Business Owners

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 

I'm twenty-six years old and currently the sous chef at a local fine dining/seafood joint. I feel like I've hit a brick wall. There is no room for growth anymore, but I love this job. However, I need to progress constantly to fill the void of getting bored too quickly.

 

The idea of opening my own small restaurant has been tossed around for over a year now. I have someone interested in backing me and only wants to be a silent partner..more or less..they just want to make their money and not have to deal with the daily operations (dream come true, right?) This seemed to be my only valuable option as there is no more room for growth and I have very little input, other than training and ordering.

 

I have been offered a head chef job at another local restaurant, but I like to cook food and write a menu I can be proud of. So, cooking food that's primarily outsourced from Sysco and other food purveyors doesn't really appeal to me. I want to support local fisherman, butchers, and farmers to the best of my ability. I want to write my own menu and order my products...doing something different in this area. However, I want to do so without coming off extremely pretentious and arrogant. I'm very good at what I do. I'm also very humble and ego free at the same time. I feel like taking a leap into my own place could be my opportunity without having to push my ideals on another business that wants things done their way.

 

I gained a lot of experience in ordering, inventory, costs and scheduling just as a line cook at a previous job. Our "chef" had to take an extended leave of absence. His leaving couldn't have come at a better time because our food costs were high as hell due to him ordering all these "fun" products to play with that would just go to waste. He just wanted to learn and experience on someone else's dime. In his absence, I managed to knock down his ridiculous 48% food cost down to 31% by streamlining products for the new menu and eliminating excess spending before taking this current job. I helped knock down the labor costs as well. So, I feel that I can succeed in sustaining the kitchen costs with minimal issues. Now, running the rest of the business is where I feel like I may run into my issues.

 

Just because I can run a kitchen well does not make me a restaurant expert. I have no illusions. I'm almost clueless about FOH operations, except for a year of bartending experience. Am I biting off more than I can chew? Or can I adopt the same principles I used for stabilizing a kitchen for the front of the house, etc...?

 

Any and all criticism and advice is welcomed...especially from chefs who do own their own businesses as well.

post #2 of 8

for what it's worth, here's my 2 cents...

well it certainly sounds like you are ready, willing and able, have your head on straight and most of the skills and business sense to be successful. my concern is opening a new place in this economy...especially in Florida. it is a tough market there..tourist driven and seasonal. outside of miami, the keys, sanibel-naples area and some old trendy spendy spots, most of florida is a dust bowl for fine diners. most people are retired, on fixed income and want cheap food and early bird special prices all the time. you really need to not only know your market, but what other restaurants around you are doing and more importantly how they are doing. people are definatley cutting back on not only how often they eat out, but also what they are eating. small bistros and tapas menus are favored over the so called fine dining places. in fact some high end restaurants are closing their doors only to reopen with smaller, less expensive menus. as exciting as opening a restaurant can be, personally i would wait a year or so...or move. more restaurants fail in florida more than any other state. being an exclusive seafood plaace would not be my choice either. its both expensive and perishable....unfortunately passion don't pay the bills!

joey

food is like love...it should be entered into with abandon or not at all        Harriet Van Horne

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food is like love...it should be entered into with abandon or not at all        Harriet Van Horne

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post #3 of 8
Thread Starter 

Trust me. I know EXACTLY what you're saying about Flori-duh. I'm actually relocating to Austin, TX in September to take on some music festival promotions and set up work full-time. I figure it'll give me a breather and time to ponder what it is I want to do exactly. The restaurant I work at seems to be one of the only restaurants in the area doing business in slow season. We only have 16 tables in the joint but do about 100-130 covers a night...and when the checks are about a $100 at minimum, I'd say that they're doing quite hot. The slowest night we've had since I've been there has been 60 or so covers.

 

I know where your advice is coming from though. I wouldn't dare open a restaurant here. I'm still more concerned about the front of the house management than anything else. I feel like I'm pretty good with money and management...but I don't know if I can break myself from only being concerned about the kitchen aspect.

post #4 of 8

austin right on!...great city..great music scene, great food, great town...you are at the perfect age to embrace it...what fun! still would give it some time though, especially being in a new town...just to check out the big picture, restaurant wise and to see how the town works(every town works differently),what doesn't work and how you can make a difference...good luck and here's to getting out of florida!!! its for old people!!!

joey

what part of florida are you in?

food is like love...it should be entered into with abandon or not at all        Harriet Van Horne

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food is like love...it should be entered into with abandon or not at all        Harriet Van Horne

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post #5 of 8
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by durangojo View Post

austin right on!...great city..great music scene, great food, great town...you are at the perfect age to embrace it...what fun! still would give it some time though, especially being in a new town...just to check out the big picture, restaurant wise and to see how the town works(every town works differently),what doesn't work and how you can make a difference...good luck and here's to getting out of florida!!! its for old people!!!

joey

what part of florida are you in?

 

Sadly, I'm in tourist and old folk hell...Cocoa Beach area. I lived in Austin before when I was 18 and 19. It was pretty cool. I see a lot of decent restaurants online in ATX, but they all serve the same stuff practically. It's all "comfort food" with a fine dining twist. I know "all" is a generalization..but that seems to be a majority of what I saw. I want to do something a little different..a little unique wherever I go, but not to the point of it being asinine and pretentious. I do like that a lot of the ATX restaurants buy LOCAL though. That is a big deal to me. I would love to eliminate Sysco, US Foods, etc... from my buying as much as possible, but I know if nothing else, I have to look to them for dry goods, etc...I'm definitely not in a rush to do this. I've been testing out my recipes as specials where I'm working currently (when possible) ...just to see if they can be realized in a volume establishment.
 

 

post #6 of 8

There are a lot of cool restaurants in Austin...check out Uchi, Foreign and Domestic, and Congress just to name a few.

 

There is nothing wrong with not understanding front of the house very well at this point. My advice would be to get someone on board with you who you trust who can do the job--a former FoH coworker whom you liked a lot, a rec. from a friend, etc. The key isn't necessarily doing it all yourself, it's making sure you have key people you trust in place. Once, and if, you move into the chef/owner role you can take a more active participation in running the front of the house, but will most likely need coaching (at least initially) from the people who are more experienced than you.

 

It might be possible to find someone you know from the FoH to come in as a partner to run the business with you.  

post #7 of 8

Barnard's Surf? i use to hang out in cocoa beach in the 80's...even tried surfing a few times...figured there were easier and less painful ways to kill myself..so i took up skiing! love cocoa beach though. we use to haul our boat out in cape canaveral, downwind of the scallop plant. took me 3 years to eat scallops again after spending a very hot and humid august in the boatyard...perpetual low tide!!

in my current restaurant i try and outsource to local farmers(produce), ranchers,( eggs, beef, chicken, cheese) organic bakery (bread), sustainable seafood company,as much as possible. at times it is difficult and it's always more expensive, but i firmly believe that local outsourcing is essential to building and maintaining a healthy community....grassroots first, next the planet! the obvious difficulty for farm to table restaurants comes in the winter months when produce choices are limited...an idea for my next restaurant is to have a true farm to table place where i cook and serve what i can grow or raise.... do you know anyone in austin? have a job when you relocate? good thing you're not in a rush....that never is a good thing...

joey

food is like love...it should be entered into with abandon or not at all        Harriet Van Horne

Reply

food is like love...it should be entered into with abandon or not at all        Harriet Van Horne

Reply
post #8 of 8
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by durangojo View Post

Barnard's Surf? i use to hang out in cocoa beach in the 80's...even tried surfing a few times...figured there were easier and less painful ways to kill myself..so i took up skiing! love cocoa beach though. we use to haul our boat out in cape canaveral, downwind of the scallop plant. took me 3 years to eat scallops again after spending a very hot and humid august in the boatyard...perpetual low tide!!

in my current restaurant i try and outsource to local farmers(produce), ranchers,( eggs, beef, chicken, cheese) organic bakery (bread), sustainable seafood company,as much as possible. at times it is difficult and it's always more expensive, but i firmly believe that local outsourcing is essential to building and maintaining a healthy community....grassroots first, next the planet! the obvious difficulty for farm to table restaurants comes in the winter months when produce choices are limited...an idea for my next restaurant is to have a true farm to table place where i cook and serve what i can grow or raise.... do you know anyone in austin? have a job when you relocate? good thing you're not in a rush....that never is a good thing...

joey

The Surf went under when the new people took over a couple of years ago, I think. This place is pretty desolate. The choice restaurants are very FEW. A lot of the "fine dining" around here charge ridiculous prices for Sysco quality product...and most are your standard fare steak houses or Italian joints...nothing you can't find somewhere else for better quality. I guess Orlando is close enough to be considered a food savior for Brevard Co.

 

I know tons of people in Austin from touring with old bands of mine. I have some family out there as well. As far as work goes, I'm stepping out of the restaurant business for a little bit to think and plan. I'm taking a 3-4 day a week job that pays twice as much as what I make in a week in the culinary field...haha..and it's easy work...event planning and stage production. I feel like it's necessary for me to step back for a few months, weigh my options, and see if I'm still as amped about opening my own spot.
 

 

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